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Modesto Irrigation District Candidates – Division 4

Your Vote Counts 2013


Council Dist. 2 | Council Dist. 4 | Council Dist. 5 | MID Div. 2 | MID Div. 3 | MID Div. 4
School Board 4 yr. | School Board 2 yr.


Modesto Irrigation District Candidates – Division 4

Ted Donham
59 years old. Resident of Modesto for 55 years. Retired utility district professional.
Brad Johnson
Did not participate.
Jim Mortensen
66 years old. Resident of Modesto for 66 years. Retired engineering operating manager.
Jake Wenger
29 years old. Resident of Modesto for 29 years. Vice President family farming corporation.


In your own words, describe the role and responsibility of the office you seek?

Ted Donham: The role and responsibility of a Board Member at The Modesto Irrigation District must be to serve and represent their Division. They must first listen, stay engaged, be open, honest and find ways to lower rates.

Brad Johnson: Did not participate.

Jim Mortensen: Ideally, MID Directors should act as a Corporate Board of Directors by setting a governing policy and plotting long-term direction of the institution. Realistically, however, Directors must be willing to wade into the practical and technical aspects of the MID to ensure that ratepayer/constituent interests are being served and protected.

Jake Wenger: A Modesto Irrigation District board member is responsible for District oversight as it pertains to the management of the MID. My job as a board member is to help guide the MID as to benefit the ratepayers.

Is the organization for which you seek office operating with a balanced budget? If not, what are your plans to make the organization more financially sustainable?

Ted Donham: The MID in my opinion does not operate with a balanced budget. Previous board decisions have led to massive debt that must be addressed. There is opportunity to combine services already in place that could save every participant.

Brad Johnson: Did not participate.

Jim Mortensen: As with any organization that has a public component to it, MID accounting practices differ from private industry. As such, it is possible to function with a balanced budget, while at the same time bonding long-term debt and subsidizing certain customers. This has been a systemic problem at MID and one that I had the opportunity to examine as Chair of the Citizens’ Water Advisory Committee. Our Committee dug deep into past practices, including billing, operations, true cost of delivery and infrastructure. Despite

diverse backgrounds, we were unanimous in our suggestions for a long-term strategy to ensure the fiscal health of MID.

Our recommendations to the MID Board were accepted unanimously and included:

– Create short-term and long-term business plans that have measurable goals. Benchmarks are crucial to success.

– Reduce/eliminate the subsidy paid by electricity customers for water operations.

– Invest in infrastructure to increase water storage.

Jake Wenger: The MID is operating on the back of a couple successful years. However, there is still a large portion of unfunded pension that will need to be accounted for. By watching spending more closely, we can protect against some of the costly endeavors that have plagued the district in the past.

In a collaborative effort with other local irrigation districts, the MID can make a greater push in Sacramento to get large-scale hydroelectricity accepted as renewable energy. This will push the MID over the 33% renewable mandate and allow the district to sell excess credits, generating new revenue.

Additionally, the MID needs to look at annexing farm ground to the East into the district. The annexation would bring new revenues to help upgrade MID infrastructure. A deal could mimic OID’s recent annexation of 7,000 acres of almonds. The new irrigators would pay a higher price and only receive water during wet years. This would also help slow the overuse of groundwater in that region.

What will be your top priority as an MID Director? Describe the measures you will take to address this priority.

Ted Donham: There is the challenge of protecting our water rights, while relicensing of the Don Pedro dam. While the largest problem is still the huge debt that has accumulated in the last two decades.

Brad Johnson: Did not participate.

Jim Mortensen: As a member of the Board of Directors, I will work to:

– Prioritize creating additional local water storage by implementing the strategy outlined in the report by the Citizens’ Water Advisory Committee.

– Develop a policy that puts agriculture first when discussing any future sale of water.

– Use my 35 years of water and electrical systems management experience to ensure maintenance projects and future growth are planned methodically and their costs are fairly and realistically calculated.

Jake Wenger: My first priority is to protect our greatest resource from state and federal agencies who are looking to take MID water. The State Water Resources Control Board is looking at an increased river flow proposal that would require the MID to essentially double the amount of water sent down the Tuolumne River between February and June. This would not only take water away from the district, but that water would not be able to flow through the turbines at New Don Pedro, creating valuable energy during peak demand periods. The MID would be forced to purchase more expensive power to compensate for the lost production, causing rate increases to the electric ratepayers. The MID is also in the beginning stages of the FERC relicensing of Don Pedro reservoir. The current license expires in 2016 and a new license is needed. The resulting process will cost the district around $25 million and will most likely require increased river flows.

Describe the ways in which you as an elected official would encourage a collaborative and cooperative relationship with other units of local government and community leadership.

Ted Donham: Opportunities to combine services with the city of Modesto, Stanislaus County and the Turlock Irrigation District must be discussed and investigated.

Brad Johnson: Did not participate.

Jim Mortensen: It is imperative that locally elected boards, commissions, councils and governing bodies begin to think more regionally. The Central Valley’s needs are traditionally last served and while there is strong cooperation between our representatives in Sacramento, it has yet to trickle down to a local level.

As an MID Director, I will embrace the ideas and diversity that our community offers. It is vital that civic groups, government and businesses speak in a unified voice when it comes to protecting our resources, water rights and fiscal future.

Jake Wenger: The first step is to create a more open dialogue between the Modesto Irrigation District and other units of local government. With a lot of recent turnover in MID leadership, now is an ideal time to change policies to create better access to MID and its meetings. The current board has already agreed to a renovation of the boardroom, which features several new technological upgrades. MID board meetings will now be able to be viewed live online and past meeting videos will be archived on the website. There is also a possibility to have the meetings broadcast live on local cable television. The possibility of changing the times of board meetings also needs to be examined. The current 9:00 a.m. start time makes it difficult for working ratepayers to attend meetings.

Do you believe the utility rates currently charged by MID are appropriately priced? Why or why not?

Ted Donham: NO. The rate structure reflects company mistakes and direction. The rates have grown nearly 100% in the last ten years, too fast. In fact, if more attention is focused on debt reduction, I feel rate cuts could soon be realized.

Brad Johnson: Did not participate.

Jim Mortensen: I believe there is a steep divide in the calculation factors between electricity and irrigation rates. While closing this gap is not insurmountable, it will require some very long-term planning to ensure customers understand not only the history of why their bills are the way they are, but more importantly, the need to take corrective action to ensure a long-term plan for fiscal health.

Jake Wenger: The Modesto Irrigation District has historically been able to claim some of the lowest rates in the state. Over the last few years, our electric rates have risen rapidly. Bad investments have come back to haunt the district and we as ratepayers have paid those costs. Investments in Mountain House, TANC, a coal plant in New Mexico, the McHenry solar field, a Ripon water treatment facility and lastly, but certainly not least, the failures with the Modesto Water Treatment Phase II have all been a drain on the district and caused rate increases to overcome the losses. With a little more oversight, costly errors and rate increases can be averted.

What are your plans for facilitating the creation of new, living wage jobs in our area?

Ted Donham: My focus will be entirely focused on the health of The Modesto Irrigation District and what it brings to our community.

Brad Johnson: Did not participate.

Jim Mortensen: I believe the MID can play a key role in the creation of living wage jobs by using economic incentives to attract new industry or provide expansion credits for current employers that require reliable and reasonably priced electricity.

As a water and electricity manager for local food processors, I was responsible to ensure our electricity and water needs were met in the most economic manner possible. Given the amount of overhead devoted to utilities, companies could help expand our workforce by partnering with MID to develop creative solutions for lowering their monthly costs.

Jake Wenger: As a Director at the Modesto Irrigation District, I would be able to help ease electric rates. This would aid not only residential customers, but business, industrial and agricultural customers, as well as allow the hiring of new workers.

 

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